Posts by Celeste Hamilton Dennis


Open question: How can being a Connector benefit me?

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As a Connector, you help others. But you also might be thinking, “How does being a Connector help me?”

Being a Connector has all sorts of perks related to making the world a better place: you’re connecting people, sharing good ideas, and encouraging action in your community.

But we’re learning that there’s also some personal gain to be had in the role. No shame there! Here are a few Connectors sharing how they hope the Idealist Network will benefit them:

From Seana in Tulsa, Oklahoma:

I hope it will provide me with joy, but also career development. This is the sort of work I want to do full time.

From Amanda in Fayetteville, Arkansas:

It would take a lot of the workload off my shoulders for people to connect with each other and not feel like they have to go through me. I first signed up because I feel lonely out here. I want to meet more people who think like this. I want to meet more people who think like a solutionary. Mostly so I don’t feel like I’m going crazy. I want other Connectors in my life and the support of like-minded people who already get the process. They are going to have ways of connecting I want to learn from. That will make my job more fun and easier. Connectors coming together is a huge benefit for everybody.

From Anna in Cambodia:

Being a Connector is a great way for me personally to build a network, and also keep connected with issues outside of Cambodia.

Your turn! How do you hope being a Connector will benefit you?

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Good Idea: Open mic for connection-making

One of the best things that came out of the Portland Team’s meeting a couple of weeks ago? Nick Berger’s idea for an open mic.

It’s simple: bring together Connectors and people/organizations who need support for their ideas in one space. Think Sunday Soup (a grassroots model for funding small- to medium-sized creative projects through community meals), but instead of giving funding, you give connections.

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Connectors, think about all the potential this stage has! (photo via MaggyMcMagMag on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

“Portland is full of people that have tremendously exciting and progressive ideas,” Nick says. “I imagine that the collective group of Connectors would be able to leverage resources, provide perspective, offer assistance, and/or connect them to resources that they might not have known about—in real time.”

Connectors would be encouraged to invite people whom they know personally. That way, there could be a more focused approach.

“Having Connectors bring in specific people with action-oriented ideas would also create a certain level of vetting, screening, and investment that might allow the process to find more stable roots and support,” he says. “This would also help keep Connectors ‘neutral’ through the initial incubation stage of the process, and allow us to take on some specific case studies or trial runs for larger-scale connecting.”

Right now, the idea is in its beginning stages. There are more logistics to be thought through, including space (maybe the Idealist offices or The Oregon Public House?), what the invitation would look like (casual or more formal with a space for listing needs?), and in general, how the night would flow (on the spot connections or more advance thought?).

For Nick, an open mic event would give Connectors a better sense of needs and strengthen what already exists in the community.

“There’s power in bringing people together in a space where organic dialogue and collaboration can be supported through reflective listening, inclusion, and openness,” he says. “There’s a greater potential to ignite sparks and create fire when all of the elements are in the same place at the same time.”

What do you think? Could this idea work in your community? Do you have thoughts on how best to organize such an event?

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Spreading the 3Qs in Denver, Colorado

Every Thursday, Connector Dave Revere will be hosting an open 3Qs meeting at a local Denver coffee house for anyone in the Idealist community.

“We’re all connected. I really believe that. So I wanted to create a space for people to come together and help plot each other’s well-being,” he says. “As a community manager for Denver Idealist, I had the perfect platform. With the launch of the Connectors, it seemed like a great space for these people to meet as well as to form Action Groups for our community.”

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Denver Community Managers Dave Revere and Heidi Box spreading the Idealist love.

Five people showed up for the first meeting a couple of weeks ago and shared their intentions, obstacles, and what they needed to take their next step.

Connections were made right then and there. For example, one participant was passionate about criminal justice reform and wanted to work with inmates. Someone in the group provided her with a personal point of contact for a volunteer coordinator at a Colorado criminal justice nonprofit.

Dave was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

“We had some folks cancel at the last minute, so I was a bit worried we wouldn’t have much to give each other with a group so small, but I was delighted with everyone’s input, and everyone agreed that they received valuable takeaways from the meeting,” he says.

Dave wasn’t the only one to have initial doubts. When he approached people about coming, they were concerned they wouldn’t have anything to offer. But he encouraged them not to worry about it.

“When someone asks for help, the natural response of the group is going to be to help them, not to say nothing. People surprise themselves by contributing knowledge and resources they didn’t know they had,” Dave says.

He’d love for 3Qs meetings to become a regular event.

“This is a real-time space with real people who want to help each other out,” he says. “We’re not idealists in some vague sense with our heads in the clouds. We’re real people who care about our community and are coming together to figure stuff out.”

Want to organize a meeting series like this? Feel free to reach out to Dave for more info and advice.

In the Denver area? Come out for their next meeting this Thursday at Hooked on Colfax.

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Meet a Connector: Lotta in Arusha, Tanzania

The thing that most excites Lotta Saiteu about the Idealist Network? Its reach.

“I like the fact that Idealist connects people of all kinds,” he says. “I want to help give a common ground to all, especially to those who have no voice.”

With experience in marketing, tourism, anti-violence training, nonprofit management, and as the founder of the organization Volunteers Service for Africa, connecting comes easily to Lotta.

Most recently, he’s been working on a project that connects local human rights and women-focused organizations with each other and with overseas volunteers. He’s also been helping high school graduates find scholarships to study outside the country.

“Staying neutral enables me to act as a facilitator and nurture all sides despite any differences,” he says.

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Women in Arusha market. (photo via Marc Wisniak on Flickr’s Creative Commons)

Home to more than 128 tribes, Tanzania is no stranger to difference, yet it is a peaceful and democratic country.

In Lotta’s opinion, the social sector is progressing (healthcare facilities are free for children under five and their mothers, for example, which has reduced the infant mortality rate) and there is no government oppression. The challenges he sees are corruption and shaky commitments from volunteers and nonprofit employees.

Still, Lotta is hopeful. He also wants to work across borders, connecting his city of Arusha with nearby Nairobi, Kenya, to create a platform for change.

“Arusha will benefit so much from this connectivity. There is much to be done here but knowing what to do and when and how is the challenge,” he says. “Being a Connector will give me a chance to learn new things and train others on what I have learned. I just think I have a lot to give.”
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Live in Arusha? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Team near you or start one of your own.

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Action Group in Pune, India gets serious about empowering the underprivileged

This past Saturday, Abhishek Surywanshi hosted the first meeting of his Action Group “Empowering the underprivileged in Pune.

Before the meet-up, Abhishek and a few others gathered at a mall food court to plan it. They decided that the venue for the first meeting would be of utmost importance to inspire conversation, and settled on Jnana Prabodhini, an educational nonprofit known for launching great ideas.

Twenty people from incredibly diverse backgrounds showed up for the seminal meeting—the fields represented included engineering, psychology, fashion, international business, and medical research, just to name a few.

“We expected a few people but never thought we would get a response from almost every professional field. It was brilliant to see multidimensional views on same thing,” he says.

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The group sat in a circle on the floor—an arrangement that helped everyone have eye contact with one other and feel comfortable participating—and talked about issues ranging from traffic to growing one’s own food to how the government could help them achieve their goals.

Their next steps include forming new Action Groups, going out into the city and recruiting members, and meeting again and again to maintain momentum—and increase the fun.

Abhishek attributes the success of the meeting to proper planning. His advice to other Groups? Keep it simple. Know your members. Plan accordingly. Make sure everyone in the group speaks. And have coffee afterward to connect on a more personal level.

Abhishek couldn’t be happier with the results.

“When people from ten-plus different fields gather on a pretty evening with a common goal, things tend to be awesome,” he says.

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Want to learn more tips and tricks for organizing a great meeting? Reach out to Abhishek.

Curious about Action Groups? Find one near you or start one of your own!

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Meet an Action Group founder: Geoffrey in Carpinteria, California

An appreciation for clean sand is the norm in his coastal community of Santa Barbara County, yet Connector Geoffrey Berz believes more can be done.

“Focusing on our beaches—a mutual love of just about everyone—can benefit Santa Barbara County by bringing those of all backgrounds to the beach cleanup and giving them a safe place for dialogue at various levels,” he says. “This dialogue can lead to identifying other needs in our community while building stronger ties between vastly different demographics.”

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Geoffrey ready to surf.

Strengthening ties across different groups and promoting collaboration is how Geoffrey spends his time when he’s not surfing and or playing beach volleyball. Professionally, he helps organizations scale up and problem-solve.

“This involves pooling resources, project management, shifting organizational responsibilities, and naturally, connecting individuals who have skills/needs that can foster positive change,” he says.

His Action Group, “Monthly Beach Cleanup,” is one extension of this work. Initially, he plans to reach out to the Idealist community to garner more support, and then go beyond, with an emphasis on face-to-face connection.

By being a part of the Network, Geoffrey ultimately hopes to expand his own circle of go-getting Idealists.

“Organizing action in an entrepreneurial spirit is not an easy task. It’s important to have individuals and organizations that are like-minded in the same place,” he says. “A place like Idealist.”

Feel the same way about clean beaches that Geoffrey does? Join his Action Group.

Curious about Action Groups? Find one near you or start one of your own!

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Field Report! Team meeting in Washington, D.C.

Connectors in the capital of the U.S. are all about action.

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A few of D.C.’s Connectors. (photo courtesy Brad Ogilvie)

Last Wednesday, seven of them met for the first time at the William Penn House. Their backgrounds ranged from community development to environmental sciences to county politics.

“The collective wisdom and experience in the room was great to see, as well as the shared passions to try new and creative things to bring people together. I think we also were energized by the fact that we see the challenges of collaboration, but believe that with good planning, we can overcome them,” Connector Brad Ogilvie says.

The Team started by introducing themselves and taking an inventory of the skills and networks in the room. Then they identified next steps, which included pledging to deepen connections with their communities over the next six months to get a better sense of what’s already going on.

More specifically, they all agreed to sign up on the community websites Nextdoor and Meetup. Longer term, their plan is to host a “Vision/Imagine D.C.” event early next year that would get people together to talk about concretely addressing social issues in the city.

In Brad’s opinion, the D.C. Team can help provide a stronger sense of community in a place where politics and power rule.

“We hope to break down some of the divisions that exist,” he says.

In the Washington, D.C. area? Join the Team and keep an eye out for their next meeting in late June or early July.

Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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Meet a Connector: Stephen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Growing up in the small town of Brusly, Louisiana, just outside Baton Rouge, Stephen Hebert felt like an oddball. The environmental issues that mattered to him didn’t seem to matter to others. So he left eight years ago and was surprised to discover like-minded tribes in other states.

“I spent a lot of my life thinking that no one else thought like I did. So once I started to discover similar people, I became kind of greedy,” he says.

Stephen is now back in Brusly and is all about reconnecting with the community and finding more socially-minded people through the Idealist Network. As an ideas guy, he’s even dreamed of something similar that would match people’s needs to other people’s skills, and make it easy to get involved.

“It was pretty much that first email I got from Ami,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh! It’s here. Someone is building this network.’ ”

 

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Stephen at a recent Team meeting. (photo courtesy Ashifa Sarkar Vasi)

Stephen’s learned a lot about working with people as a result of all of the different roles he’s had over the years—from software developer to gas station attendant to Americorps teacher in a jail to, currently, restaurant manager. It’s in this last role that Stephen sees an especially good opportunity to become more engaged with Brusly as the owner is all about bringing the community together.

As part of the Baton Rouge Area Team, Stephen is hoping to share and learn with others who are as interested in connecting with their community as he is.

“Our local team is small, but we are pithy. It has been a great experience in co-leadership, as each of us brings something unique to the table that adds strength as well as perspective and balance,” he says.

Given his background in IT, Stephen is currently working on a wiki, blog, and map for the group.

He’s also been thinking about how to best categorize and make accessible all the resources, local events, public spaces, and good ideas happening in Baton Rouge for an inventory similar to the ones Brooklyn and San Diego created.

For Stephen, being a part of the Team also gives him the same satisfaction teaching does—that is, giving people an understanding and power they’ve never had before.

“The Connector role just seems so fundamental. You find out what’s good and then share it with other people looking for it,” he says. “That’s what I want to do. Empower others to get the things they want.”

Want to learn more about Stephen and his thoughts on community engagement? Feel free to get in touch.

Live in Baton Rouge? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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Meet an Action Group founder: Foday in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Foday Kallon can’t stand government corruption.

As a young accounting and finance professional, he would love to see the government in his home country of Sierra Leone be forced to make all financial reports public so people can ask questions openly and freely.

Simply put, he believes in power to the people.

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“My greatest passion in life is to bring equality to where inequality exists, and bridge the widening gap between the rich and poor through peaceful civil activism and public sensitization campaigns,” he says.

So far, to draw attention to the abuse of public funds, Foday has launched several radio campaigns and organized a rally to bring this issue to youth and the general public.

He also recently created the Action Group “Seeking for a Transparent & Accountable Government in Sierra Leone” to build momentum for a second rally and get more support for the issue – especially from those living outside the country.

“The Action Group will be of pivotal importance in enabling us to secure more resources (human and material) in order to spread the message nationwide and in the diaspora to combat corruption as quickly as possible,” he says.

Of course this issue doesn’t come without its challenges, mainly, political interference. But for Foday, the Action Group is also a way to grab the attention of the world.

“We look forward to international partners helping us overcome such challenges peacefully,” he says.
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Have ideas? Let Foday know or join his Action Group. Curious about Action Groups? Find one near you or start one of your own!

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Meet a Connector: Seana in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Seana Wilkerson has her fingers on the pulse of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I’m very active in community events and committees in Tulsa and I can’t help but spread the word about the opportunities that I hear about. It’s a passion of mine to facilitate the success of others,” she says.

Seana has a wide range of interests from photography and Harry Potter to human rights and global poverty. Currently, she works as a Diversity & Inclusion consultant and coordinator for DiversityConneX, an employment matchmaking website.

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Seana Wilkerson

For Seana, who’s both local and global-minded, the Idealist Network is the perfect intersection of these two mindsets.

“It’s exciting because it seems much harder to get plugged in or have a global reach from where I sit in the Midwest. I’m hoping to catalyze my efforts and those in my region through it,” she says.

In Seana’s opinion, Tulsa is a great place to do something like this right now. The city is home to an award-winning young professionals network well as a collaborative, socially minded network of organizations and business leaders. The art scene is thriving, downtown is blossoming, entrepreneurship is encouraged, and small businesses rule – with two out of every five being started by minorities.

With all these pieces in place, Tulsa is poised to make these connections stronger. The challenge?

“I think every city struggles with how to get people engaged and the further south you travel in Tulsa, it seems the awareness and engagement drops,” she says. “Another challenge is that many people in the social impact scene are involved in several organizations and projects, so convincing them of another thing, even if it may make things easier in the long run, is tough.”

Seana is a one of two people on the Tulsa Area Team at the moment and remains hopeful that others will join. The Connector role couldn’t be any more suited to who she is.

“Neutrality doesn’t come natural because I hold strong opinions, but I recognize it is not all about me,” she says. “However, most of the time I get so excited thinking about ways to help someone that I don’t care if it is something I would do myself. I just want to see them reach that next step.”

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Live in Tulsa? Join Seana! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

 

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